Cambodia: ICRC action continues after 30 years of presence

11-12-2009 Operational Update

Cambodians suffered almost continuous war, deadly political clashes and violence between 1969 and 1999. Hundreds of thousands lost their lives and millions were forced to leave their homes. In 1979, the ICRC launched one of its biggest relief operations ever in cooperation with UNICEF, providing food to tens of thousands. This operational update covers the period January-October 2009.

The orthopaedic component factory in Phnom Penh. A bench worker assembling a prosthetic foot.  
  Visiting Siem Reap prison. Distribution of hygiene articles.    
  Inter-ministerial seminar on "Health in Prison Settings" organized with the support of the ICRC.    
  Cambodian Red Cross staff evaluate tracing needs in a village in Banteay Meanchey Province.    

Today, the ICRC remains active in Cambodia where humanitarian needs persist. The ICRC works closely with local organizations and the national authorities, in particular the ministry of social affairs, veterans and youth rehabilitation (MoSVY), the general department of prisons of the ministry of interior, and the Cambodian Red Cross.

Landmines and explosive remnants of war have turned large tracts of land into deadly no-go areas, killing or injuring over 63,000 people between 1979 and 2008. Over 200 people were killed or injured in 2009, and thousands saw their access to land and essential services severely restricted.

The ICRC supports the MoSVY in managing two physical rehabilitation centres for landmine victims. A factory also produces components and orthoses for other physical rehabilitation centres in the country.

Visits to detainees held in prisons under the authority of the MOI continue, in order to monitor their treatment and assess the conditions under which they are being detained. Through its technical support and expertise, the ICRC aims to help the authorities improve prison management and conditions of detention.

The ICRC works closely with the Cambodian Red Cross to enhance the capacity of the National Society in the fields of tracing, mine awareness and the promotion of international humanitarian law.

 Visiting and assisting detainees  

The ICRC’s detention activities aim to protect the dignity and physical well-being of people deprived of their freedom. ICRC delegates visit detention facilities and speak with detainees in private to assess their conditions of detention. The ICRC then shares its observations and recommendations with the authorities on a regular and confidential basis.

Between January and October 2009, the ICRC visited more than 11,000 detainees in 18 different prisons and distributed personal hygiene kits to nearly 5,000 detainees.

In 2009, the ICRC worked on enhancing the authorities'capacity to provide health care for detainees. In September, the ICRC organized a seminar on improving health in prisons, at which representatives of the ministry of the interior, the ministry of health, prison directors and other officials shared their experiences and best practices.

The ICRC shared its expertise on water and sanitation projects with the authorities, with the aim of improving construction standards for future prisons. In addition, the organization provided technical expertise and material support to twelve prisons, to improve their water and sanitation systems.

 Believing in abilities, not disabilities  

Today, the ICRC Physical Rehabilitation Project is one of the main ICRC activities in Cambodia. The project includes the Battambang Regional Physical Rehabilitation Centre, the Phnom Penh Orthopaedic Component factory and the Kompong Speu Regional Centre.

Over 150,000 people in Cambodia – including 36,000 landmine victims – have mobility difficulties that require assistive devices. The centres that the ICRC supports provide almost 45% of the services they need, in the form of artificial limbs, orthotic devices and physiotherapy. The component factory is the only source of prosthetic and orthotic devices in the country, supplying close to 15,000 patients a year.

In 2009, the two ICRC-supported physical rehabilitation centres cared for over 10,000 patients, providing them with artificial limbs, supportive braces, crutches and wheelchairs.

Since January 2009, Phnom Penh's National Component Factory has produced and supplied more than 3,000 artificial limbs, knee joints and alignment systems to other physical rehabilitation centres in the country, free of charge.

In remote areas where it is difficult for patients to travel to a city, staff from Battambang and Kompong Speu centres visited over 8,000 patients to assess their needs and provide assistive devices.

 Restoring family links  

The ICRC set up its tracing network in Cambodia in 1979, when the war had separated tens of thousands of families. Until 2000, the ICRC tracing service focused on the search for missing relatives, acting upon requests from people in Cambodia, Thailand and abroad. The organization facilitated the exchange of family news and, whenever possible, reunited relatives.

In 2000, the Cambodian Red Cross became the lead agency for the restoration of family links and took over the Red Cross message network in Cambodia. However, the ICRC continued to support the CRC, as the organization held tracing data on over 500,000 people, dating back to 1975. This data has now been digitized, and on 14 December the ICRC will hand over the files to the Cambodian Red Cross, further enhancing the Society’s ability to help families find out about missing relatives. (see ICRC news release )

 Promoting international humanitarian law  

In accordance with its mandate, the ICRC is enco uraging Cambodia to sign and ratify humanitarian treaties and is promoting national implementation of international humanitarian law (IHL). In particular, the ICRC has encouraged Cambodia to join the Convention on Cluster Munitions and to adhere to Protocol III (concerning the Red Crystal emblem) additional to the Geneva Conventions.

  • Fifty-five law students from Phnom Penh's Royal University of Law and Economics took part in an IHL seminar organized by the ICRC.

  • The ICRC gave a presentation on its mandate and on the fundamentals of IHL to over 50 Cambodian peacekeepers preparing for deployment at the Peacekeeping Training Centre in August.

  • In October, Royal University of Law and Economics undergraduates participated in an advanced IHL course.

 Working with the Cambodian Red Cross  

The ICRC supports the efforts of the Cambodian Red Cross (CRC) to promote the fundamental principles of the Red Cross and Red Crescent and the basic rules of IHL. In addition, the CRC recently participated in an ICRC production workshop held in Malaysia, to learn more about producing professional print materials.

The ICRC, the CRC and the MoSVY renewed their memorandum of understanding on extending support for people with disabilities. This is expected to result in better assistance for landmine victims, particularly those living in remote areas.

In January, the ICRC organized a workshop on weapon contamination in Siem Reap, where fifty representatives from 20 Red Cross and Red Crescent National Societies shared their experiences on how to address this problem.

The ICRC provided technical support to the CRC's mine risk education and reduction programme.

Finally, the ICRC continued to advise the CRC on its strategy for the restoration of family links, with a specific focus on needs assessments. The ICRC sponsored the attendance of two CRC representatives at an inter-regional meeting on the topic, which took place in Jakarta.